I freakin’ love The Dark Crystal! Let’s watch it! Today, we meet the Mystics and our hero Jen as the movie’s opening exposition-a-rama continues on. Today we’re watching 4:09-6:25 on the Blu-ray.
After leaving the Skeksis’ castle, we get a shot of all three suns in the sky. Thanks to the canon, we know that the big white sun is the Great Sun, the medium-sized red sun is the Rose Sun, and the teeny purple one is the Dying Sun.
Before going further, I guess I should explain what I mean by “canon.” The entire continuity of The Dark Crystal is contained in the following sources:
1: The movie (duh)
2: The book The World of the Dark Crystal by Brian Froud
3: The graphic novel The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths volumes one and two
4: The manga Legend of the Dark Crystal volumes one and two
5: The reference material on the website DarkCrystal.com, which is more or less an abridged version of Froud’s book.
Sources not considered canon are the official novelization (even though that’s where we got the name “Thra”), the Marvel Comics adaptation, and the various kids’ books and making-of books that Universal’s marketing dept. churned out back in the day.
Back to the movie. The narrator repeats information we heard in the first scene, that a thousand years ago, the Crystal cracked. That’s when the Mystics retreated to their valley to “dream of peace.” The next shot is a painting, over sand, of a spiral pattern. In Froud’s World of the Dark Crystal, there’s a close-up detail of this pattern, where it’s explained that this is the history of Thra, with the beginning of time depicted in the center and events spiraling outward from it, with the most recent events at the outer edges of the spiral. There’s a lot of symbology in the book I won’t go into here, but this one I thought was particularly interesting.
The narrator says, “Their ways were the gentle ways of natural wizards.” OK, how are we to interpret that? The Mystics are also wizards? Or the Mystics are not wizards, but they lived like wizards? Also, wizards are a thing on this world? Then the narrator tells us the Mystics are a dying race, that there are only ten left, and they are lost in their ways, numb and forgetful. The narrator further says their rituals give no comfort and the wisest of the Mystics lies dying. This dialogue intentionally mirrors the narrator’s description of the Skeksis in the previous scene, reinforcing to viewers that these creatures are connected to each other.
The Mystics then “summon the one who must save them,” we’re told. They do this by… how do I describe this? They sing a single note, an “Uhhhh…” in a deep bass. This is their magic (yes, magic is a thing in this world) and we’ll later see it used in other ways. The movie’s screenplay calls this “chanting,” so I guess I’ll call it that too. Like the Skeksis with the light shooting into their eyes, we’re not really meant to understand how or why this deep chant of theirs works, just that it does. As they do this, we get glimpses of each Mystic wandering about the valley. The Mystics don’t get as much screen time as the Skeksis, so sorting out which Mystic is which is nigh improbable. It’d take a lot more freeze-framing and internet searching than I’m already doing – and I’m doing a lot!
Cut to a waterfall, and the sound of a flute. The camera pans down, and the narrator introduces us to Jen, a Gelfling who lives in the valley of the Mystics. This is our hero, and… he’s NUDE! Calm down, everyone. He’s bathing at the base of the waterfall, relaxing and playing his flute. It’s all very “one with nature.” Why nude? Well, for one thing, it’s to convince us that these are living, breathing creatures. Throughout the rest of the movie, the audience knows that there’s a person’s body under those clothes, so of course it’s not a puppet. Also, it again reinforces that this is an alien world, different from our own. Remember that we’re only five and half minutes into the movie at this point, so everything is an establishing shot during this sequence.
Anecdote: The first time I saw The Dark Crystal when I was a kid, I actually didn’t know it was a puppets-only movie. I just assumed it’d be just another Star Wars ripoff. When I saw nude Jen, I remember thinking, “That’s not human!” (End anecdote.)
The narrator says the Skeksis killed Jen’s family and destroyed his clan (DarkCrystal.com has tons of info on the various Gelfling clans) and that only Jen survived. There’s a little clever wordplay going on here. Equivocation, even. We’re meant to think that Jen is the last Gelfling, but, because we’re going to meet Kira later, we now know that the phrase “only Jen survived” really refers to him being the last of his clan, and not all of Gelfling-kind. Well played, Dark Crystal.
Jen plays his flute (not a euphemism) as the narrator unleashes a huge info-dump on us. Jen was raised by the wisest and oldest of the Mystics. There is a prophecy. A thousand years have passed, and the world must now undergo a “time of testing.” The world must be healed. If it is not healed, it will fall forever into evil. Jen is (ugh) the “chosen one.” Chosen ones have quickly become my least favorite fantasy cliché. How is Jen “chosen,” exactly? Who chose him? It’s never specified. We get more info on this prophecy in a later scene, but it certainly doesn’t mention Jen by name.
Look closely: In the background, there’s a big wheel in the waterfall, presumably part of some machine built by/for the Mystics. This is probably where they get all their water from. I thought I’d be all clever by pointing out that wheels were never invented on this world (there are no wheeled carts or wagons anywhere) but no – here is existence of a constructed wheel.
A little rat-looking thing with antennae watches Jen from the bushes. This mammal-insect hybrid shows that nature in this world doesn’t play by the rules we’re used to. More on this in future posts. Then, dark clouds appear in the sky. That’s where we’ll leave things for now.
Next: Meet the Mystic Master.
Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.